Compounded effects of climate change and habitat alteration shift patterns of butterfly diversity

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Forister, Matthew L., McCall, Andrew C., Sanders, Nathan J., Fordyce, James A., Thorne, James H., O'Brien, Joshua, Waetjen, David P., and Shapiro, Arthur M.
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Climate change and habitat destruction have been linked to global declines in vertebrate biodiversity, including mammals, amphibians, birds, and fishes. However, invertebrates make up the vast majority of global species richness, and the combined effects of climate change and land use on invertebrates remain poorly understood. Here we present 35 years of data on 159 species of butterflies from 10 sites along an elevational gradient spanning 0–2,775 m in a biodiversity hotspot, the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California. Species richness has declined at half of the sites, with the most severe reductions at the lowest elevations, where habitat destruction is greatest. At higher elevations, we observed clear upward shifts in the elevational ranges of species, consistent with the influence of global warming. Taken together, these long-term data reveal the interacting negative effects of human-induced changes on both the climate and habitat available to butterfly species in California. Furthermore, the decline of ruderal, disturbance-associated species indicates that the traditional focus of conservation efforts on more specialized and less dispersive species should be broadened to include entire faunas when estimating and predicting the effects of pervasive stressors.


Matthew L. Forister, A. C. McCall, N. J. Sanders, J. A. Fordyce, J. H. Thorne, J. O’Brien, D. P. Waetjen, and A. M. Shapiro. 2010. Compounded effects of climate change and habitat alteration shift patterns of butterfly diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107:2088 -2092. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0909686107.